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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Festivities mark launch of second Cambodian Open

Festivities mark launch of second Cambodian Open

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But rumours abound whether spirit of Jerry Garcia will move Bryan Saltus to defend title

PETER OLSZEWSKI

Bayon CM organiser Ladda Patthanun Chaiprasert gets ready to put on a show.

DETAILS of the second Johnnie Walker Cambodian Open 2008 golf tournament to be held at the Sofitel Hotel's Phokeethra Country Club golf course in Siem Reap from December 8 to December 14 were unveiled at an extravagant launch earlier this week.

The launch kicked off with a welcome dinner in the Sofitel ballroom on Monday evening, followed by a press conference at Angkor Wat on Tuesday morning, followed by an official lunch, followed by a round of "friendship" golf for supporters, sponsors and the media.

Dignitaries present included Hor Sarun, deputy director of the Ministry of Tourism; So Mara, undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Tourism; Bun Tharith, deputy governor of Siem Reap province; and Chau Sun Kerya, director of the Department of Cultural Development Museum and Heritage Norms.

Heavyweights from Thailand included Sofitel Southeast Asia vice president Christophe Caron and Suttiluk Samranyoo, deputy managing director of Thai Nakorn Patana Co Ltd, the Bangkok-based pharmaceutical giant that developed the hotel.

The Cambodian Open is the kingdom's only international golf tournament and is part of a record 2008 Asian Tour schedule of 30 tournaments with almost US$40 million on offer.

Asian Tour is the official sanctioning body for professional golf in Asia and is a member of the International Federation of PGA Tours, the only recognised pan-Asian professional golf tour in Asia.

The prize purse at this year's Cambodian Open is a handy $300,000, and the format is a 72-holes stroke event played in accordance with the Asian Tour regulations.

There will also be a pro-am event on the Wednesday before the tournament, in what is billed as "tournament week".

Asian Tour senior vice president Gerry Norquist was also at the launch and he said that, through the Cambodian Open, "this emerging nation will once again be showcased to the world. As the only professional golf tournament in Cambodia, the Asian Tour will greatly enhance the landscape of professional golf in Cambodia and hopefully unearth new home-grown talents."

While last year's inaugural Open didn't unearth a wealth of local talent, it did launch an American oddity into cult figure status on the Asian golfing circuit, in the guise of Bryan Saltus, a veteran attendee of 150 Grateful Dead concerts which, while in itself has nothing to do with golf, has everything to do with him playing golf. He said he had a "religious experience" at a Dead concert in Las Vegas in 1993 in the form of a dream that he would one day win the US Masters.

On August 9, 1995, Grateful Dead's leader Jerry Garcia died, and Saltus' reaction was to immediately turn pro.

He's been hacking around golf courses ever since, with his awkward style gaining him a modicum of recognition in Golfweek, which wrote, "It's hard not to be amused by his golf swing. Unorthodox hardly begins to describe it."

He surprised everybody, probably including himself, by winning the first Cambodia Open after edging out Australian Adam Groom.

He celebrated his maiden Asian Tour win by jumping into the lake near the 18th green, crediting the unlikely victory to a new putter, after tossing his previous putter into another lake after missing the cut by one shot the week before in Vietnam.

And, of course, he dedicated the win to the Grateful Dead.

Can he do it again in Cambodia this year? Will he even appear? The Cambodia Open 2008 press release states he will "undoubtedly be amongst the contenders again." When pressed whether "undoubtedly" means there is doubt about whether he will front, Sofitel clubhouse manager Maximilian Kaendler said Saltus has signed on and would play if there were no preventive misfortunes such as ill health or injuries. Or perhaps a Grateful Dead concert.

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